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Montpellier beats Marseille 3-1 in French league

By Jerome Pugmire

Associated Press

Published: Wednesday, April 11 2012 12:20 p.m. MDT

Montpellier's French midfielder Younes Belhanda scores a penalty against Marseille during their League One soccer match, at the Velodrome stadium, in Marseille, southern France, Wednesday, April 11, 2012.

Claude Paris, Associated Press

PARIS — Striker Oliver Giroud scored his 19th goal of the season and midfielder Younes Belhanda netted twice as Montpellier won 3-1 at struggling Marseille on Wednesday to move three points clear of Paris Saint-Germain at the top of the French league.

Belhanda's second strike was a contender for the goal of the season, as he chested down a pass from Giroud on the edge of the penalty area and acrobatically scissor-kicked the ball into the top corner.

Belhanda scored an early penalty before midfielder Stephane M'Bia equalized for a Marseille team which has now lost 11 and drawn one of its past 12 matches and has slipped down to ninth place.

Later, semiprofessional side Quevilly was playing first-division club Rennes for a place in the French Cup final.

Marseille now needs to win the League Cup final against Lyon to salvage a disappointing campaign and secure a spot in next season's Europa League.

Montpellier, which has spent around €100 million less than PSG on players this season, took the lead in the seventh minute after an opening spell of total domination, its passing and movement much too good for a Marseille team drained of confidence.

Marco Estrada whipped in a cross from the left that was blatantly handled by defender Djimi Traore. Belhanda slotted the penalty into the bottom left hand corner, out of the reach of goalkeeper Steve Mandanda, who had guessed the right way.

Giroud almost made it 2-0 moments later when his shot hit the side netting.

Marseille equalized against the run of play in the 33rd when Benoit Cheyrou floated over a free kick from the left, striker Brandao flicked it on and M'Bia was left unmarked to nod past goalie Geoffrey Jourdren.

"We weren't concentrating properly and we let them get back into the game," Montpellier coach Rene Girard said.

Montpellier's second goal was down to brilliant teamwork, the hallmark of its team and the antithesis of big-spending PSG's reliance on stars.

Bedimo robbed Cheyrou of possession and fed Souleymane Camara down the right. As Marseille's defense stood off Camara he sprinted down the flank and floated over a superb cross to Giroud, who peeled off his marker brilliantly to beat Mandanda with a clinical volley.

Marseille almost equalized moments later when Jordan Ayew broke into the penalty area and pulled the ball back to striker Andre-Pierre Gignac, whose shot looked certain to go in before defender Garry Bocaly somehow managed to raise his leg and kick it off the line.

After Belhanda's superb second goal, Giroud and Camara both went close to scoring further goals at a near-silent Stade Velodrome.

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